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Can Ramesh Jarkiholi, Key Architect of 2019 Rebellion, Lead ‘Op Lotus’ 2.0 in K’taka? All About BJP’s ‘MLA Magnet’

Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former minister in the Basavaraj Bommai government and BJP’s legislator from Gokak, has been hogging headlines — for all the wrong reasons.

Two of Jarkiholi’s back-to-back statements have embarrassed the BJP, which quickly distanced itself from the leader.

The first statement came on January 22, when Jarkiholi claimed that the BJP will pay Rs 6,000 per vote in the upcoming assembly polls as he vowed to defeat his political rival Laxmi Hebbalkar of the Congress.

“I see that she (Hebbalkar) is distributing gifts to people in her constituency. She must have distributed kitchen appliances like cookers and mixers worth Rs 1,000 each. She will also give more presents like that. All of it will cost around Rs 3,000. I appeal to you all. Do not vote for your candidate if we do not provide you with Rs 6,000,” he was heard saying while addressing a rally in Sullebhavi, Belagavi.

The Congress has decided to approach the Election Commission to ask the electoral body to take note of Jarkiholi’s statement.

Hebbalkar denied the allegations made by Jarkiholi and claimed that the kitchen appliances and utensils that were distributed were prizes for various competitions organised by the Lakshmi Tayi Foundation. “Why is it that only women received these gifts? If they were political gifts, they should have been distributed equally amongst men and women, right?” she questioned.

A senior Congress leader, commenting on Jarkiholi, said: “He has always won an election using muscle power and distributing money, food and liquor. He will also resort to threats if people do not vote in favour of the BJP. He will not bat an eyelid to spend at least Rs 500 crore in the upcoming election to woo voters. It is the duty of the Election Commission and the Income Tax department to take note.”

Soon enough, Jarkiholi returned with yet another embarrassing statement on Monday, claiming that “BJP will form a government in Karnataka even if the party does not get a majority”. This time, he was addressing a public meeting in his constituency Gokak.

“I am sure that the BJP will win majority seats. Even if that does not happen, the BJP will form the government. We will do whatever it takes to form our government,” said the leader who had been at the forefront of the 2019 defection drama where 17 Congress and Janata Dal(S) legislators moved to the BJP and brought down the coalition government led by HD Kumaraswamy.

Priyank Kharge, Karnataka Congress MLA from Chittapur and the chairman of communications for the KPCC, said Jarkiholi’s statement is hard evidence to show that ‘Operation Lotus’ exists and that there are large sums of money at the disposal of the BJP.

“Operation Lotus is quid-pro-quo where money exchanges take place in return for the people’s mandate or manufactured majority and these people (BJP) have earned enough money to bribe people again. There is no ambiguity left,” Kharge said.

Why isn’t the Election Commission, Enforcement Directorate, or the Income Tax department taking up suo motu action on this?” Kharge questioned.

As the political war of words continues, News18 takes a look at who Ramesh Jarkiholi is and why he is so powerful.

Ramesh Jarkiholi, along with his four brothers — Satish, Balachandra, Bhimashi and Lakhan — are all politically active and seen contesting against each other. While Ramesh and Balachandra are in the BJP now, Satish is in the Congress and Bhimashi and Lakhan are independent candidates.

The Jarkiholis are considered one of the most powerful politicians in the North Karnataka region. They belong to the Bedara-Nayaka caste and are popularly called ‘Sahukars’ (lords).

Among the brothers, the family controls three major sugar mills in the Belagavi district and is one of the largest growers of sugarcane in the state. They also have investments in the education and liquor sectors.

All brothers wield enormous clout in the Belgavi district and influence at least 18 out of the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka. Belagavi has the second-highest number of seats in a single district after Bengaluru.

Ramesh Jarkiholi is considered one of the key architects of the 2019 rebellion where 17 rebel legislators from the Congress and JDS were herded by him to Mumbai and holed up in a private hotel for close to a month until the talks in the BJP to formally induct them were finalised.

The six-time MLA was the water resources minister in the present BJP government but was forced to resign in 2021 after an alleged CD was released by a woman who claimed that he had demanded sexual favours from her on the pretext of offering a job. An activist, Dinesh Kalahalli, had filed a police complaint against Jarkiholi.

On February 6, 2022, a probe on the CD case conducted by a special investigation team filed a ‘B’ report before the additional chief metropolitan court, clearing Jarkiholi of the charges.

Since the clean chit, Jarkiholi has been waiting in the wings to be re-inducted into the Basavaraj Bommai cabinet.

Jarkiholi, who was with the Congress earlier, fell out with the party due to his constant standoffs with party’s state president DK Shivakumar. A Congress insider said at one time, Jarkiholi was also eyeing the KPCC president’s post.

Cut to the present, Jarkiholi’s clash with Belagavi Rural MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar is not new. In 2018, the Jarkiholi brothers declared an all-out war against Hebbalkar and Shivakumar who they alleged were “meddling in their affairs in the region”.

Ramesh and Satish were both in the Congress and the former even threatened to quit the party if Hebbalkar was not reined in. It took a call from then Congress president Rahul Gandhi to pacify Ramesh Jarkiholi and get him to stay.

A few months later, it is said that Ramesh Jarkiholi had already begun talks with the BJP and met senior leaders of the party at the wedding of Yeddyurappa’s personal assistant Santosh. He was also seen hobnobbing with senior BJP leaders and hosting a dinner for them in Belagavi at a time when he was expected to be participating in a crucial cabinet meeting called by HD Kumaraswamy.

The BJP trusts Jarkiholi and his pull. Responding to the statements made by Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah that there were several disgruntled BJP and JD(S) MLAs who had reached out to him to join the Congress, Belagavi district in-charge minister Govind Karjol said Jarkiholi can help rope in 16 more MLAs from other parties as he did before.

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